The Matadors couldn’t have started the season any higher. Coming off its first Big West Conference championship ever and returning three all-conference players (guards Josh Jenkins and Deon Tresvant and forward Tremaine Townsend), CSUN was unanimously picked by everyone to run away with the conference once again in 2008-09.
However, a string of regular-season losses and coach Bobby Braswell we-are-not-as-good-as-we-think-we-are speeches brought the Matadors back to Earth. The Big West’s predicted-No. 1 started the year winning a struggle against a Division-III team at home before losing six consecutive away games. Among those defeats: a 67-65 decision at Cal State Bakersfield, a team in transition to Division-I basketball.
Things got only worse as conference season began. The Matadors lost their leading scorer, Tresvant, permanently after the senior was accused of stealing from a Best Buy on Jan. 1. The case, one in which Braswell’s son was also charged, has yet to be resolved.
CSUN, and especially Braswell, somehow emerged from the setback and put together a string of six consecutive wins which at last made the Matadors No. 1 after a victory over UC Riverside on Feb. 14. Following that, however, it all fell apart.
Jenkins, the starting point guard and the Big West assists leader, was involved in a car crash late Valentine’s Day, ending his season. The senior suffered serious internal injuries, but survived the collision which left the vehicle’s driver dead.
Without Tresvant or Jenkins, CSUN was blown out, 73-51, in its next appearance (at UC Irvine on Feb. 18).
Somehow, again, Northridge braced itself and remained atop. The Matadors won the outright regular-season championship and the Big West Tournament behind new faces and a surprise star: Tournament MVP Rodrigue Mels.
All the obstacles overcome earned CSUN a first round NCAA Tournament date with No. 3 Memphis. The Matadors had the Tigers on the ropes, holding a six-point lead with 10:11 to go, but finally succumbed to a flurry of 3-pointers from Roburt Sallie and lost 81-70.
Coming into the game, Sallie was averaging less than five points per game. Finally, there was something the Matadors couldn’t conquer. Still, the season was a resounding success. For their efforts, which brought national attention to a little-known San Fernando Valley commuter school, we pay them recognition:
Welcome award: Kenny Daniels, guard
Daniels, new to the program in 2008-09, averaged less than five minutes per game in the Matadors’ first six games before he had his shining moment against UCLA on Dec. 7, scoring a then-career high 13 points. The guard had a highlight dunk in the face of Bruin Jerime Anderson that seemed to spark him into attack mode for the rest of the season. Over CSUN’s last 18 games, Daniels scored in double figures in 13 occasions, including a 24-point performance that clinched the regular-season championship.
Revolution award: Rodrigue Mels, guard
Who knew Mels had it in him? Apparently everyone within the Matador family did, but no one got to see Mels’ true potential until the final days of the season. The senior, who got more playing time due to the unavailability of Tresvant and Jenkins, was asked to become a point guard ‘- a position he had never played before. Mels thrived in his new role and led the Matadors to the conference tournament championship. The tourney’s MVP scored a combined 51 points in the two games that qualified CSUN to the NCAA Tournament.
Iron man award: Rob Haynes, guard
A serious concussion prevented Haynes from tying the all-time school record for most games played. Haynes, the Matadors’ best three-point shooter at 41 percent for the season, was CSUN’s only four-year senior and the only one who had to go through two tough, below-.500 Matador seasons (2005-07). His quiet leadership and 2,857 minutes in 119 games played paid off as the guard not only won a postseason game for the first time, but also added an NCAA Tournament appearance to his Northridge Hall-of-Fame career.
Character award: Tremaine Townsend, forward
Townsend inherited more than just rebounding responsibilities when two of his senior teammates had to miss the rest of their seasons. After Tresvant and Jenkins both became unavailable, Townsend could have made tons of excuses, but he didn’t. His level of play elevated and he finished as the Matadors leading scorer and the Big West’s best rebounder for a second time. Townsend’s personality was key in keeping teammates with their heads above water while everything seemed to go wrong for CSUN.
Microphone award: Josh Jenkins, guard
Not only was Josh Jenkins an outstanding point guard, leading the Big West in assists at 6.1 per game, but he was an inspiration to other Matadors. Jenkins had a knack for being an entertainer, too. His in-game stories ‘- such as the time he told UC Irvine guard Brett Lauer he should win an Oscar for best flopper ‘- always provided humor to an otherwise all-business media room. When Jenkins went down, CSUN lost a great passer and scorer and a vocal leader.
MVC award: Bobby Braswell, head coach
The Big West Conference was first in recognizing the terrific job Braswell did throughout the season, not allowing personal ‘- his son’s charges ‘- and team ‘- Jenkins and Tresvant’s early season ends- misfortune’ lower his preseason goals: winning the conference championship and making the NCAA Tournament. The back-to-back Big West coach of the year accomplished the objective and drew up a game plan that almost led to his team’s upset of No. 3 Memphis in the first round. MVC (Most Valuable Coach), indeed.
‘Willie Jordan’ award: Willie Galick, forward
Galick was nicknamed ‘Willie Jordan’ by Jenkins after the forward tried to go on a coast-to-coast fastbreak by himself against Cal Poly on Feb. 12. Galick’s attempt wasn’t the most gracious and the ball ended up out of bounds. The forward ended up with 11 points as CSUN won 67-55. Jenkins, of course, wouldn’t let Galick forget his Jordanesque moment.
Sportscenter award: Galick, again
While Galick will be working on his dribbling this summer, athleticism is one thing he can feel accomplished about. During a home win against Long Beach State on Feb. 28, Galick grabbed a Rodrigue Mels’ miss in the air and put it back with a backwards dunk. His impressive two-pointer was good enough to make him No. 2 in the list of ESPN’s Sportscenter’s top plays of the day.
Jury’s out: Deon Tresvant, guard
Tresvant, the Matadors’ leading scorer and star, was starting to get in a groove just as the news of his alleged theft came to light and he was held out from competition indefinitely. The senior still had hope to return later in the season, but the prolonging of his case ‘- which continues April 1 ‘- prevented it from happening.